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Should You Let Your Baby Cry It Out?

Getting a child to sleep through the night is the aim of all parents, but what's the best way to do it?

How do you and your baby get a good night’s sleep?

When you hear your baby cry, letting him or her cry it out is one of the hardest things to do. Your instincts tell you to go and soothe your baby.

A study out of Temple University says that parents should let their baby cry it out.

Psychology Professor Marsha Weinraub says in an article on the Temple
website that babies need to learn to self-soothe, which they don’t learn if a parent is doing the soothing for them, such as nursing the baby back to sleep.

"The best advice is to put infants to bed at a regular time every night, allow them to fall asleep on their own and resist the urge to respond right away to awakenings."

There are many critics of the cry it out method, who will hopefully give their opinions in the comments area below, but the current science points to that as the best method, which is why we chose to use it with our son.

When we decided it was time to start, there were several nights that were absolute torture for us. In the morning, our son seemed to have suffered no harm, and he soon got it and he started self-soothing and falling asleep on his own.

Sometimes, he’s not happy to be put to bed and he cries a little, but it doesn’t last long, because he knows it will have no effect. Instead, he jumps up and down on his mattress to entertain himself and eventually goes to sleep. There are rare times when cries at night, but when it happens the cries are different. There’s the little cry that means he woke up and didn’t want to and it sort of tapers off and he’s asleep again, just like magic. Very unusually, we get the real cry and now we know it means something’s wrong and we as parents can respond and fix whatever problem he has. 

How have you dealt with getting your child to sleep through the night? Do you let your child cry it out? Share your thoughts in the comment area below.

Jim Frank January 27, 2013 at 01:03 PM
No! The article at Temple points to "scientific facts" but anyone who knows even a little about science knows that studies don't produce "facts," science uses many studies and scientific judgments come from a preponderance of evidence, not a single study. And there is an increase in studies that show that attending to a crying child is best. Of course if the goal is to allow the parents to get a good night sleep, let the kid cry, but is that best for the child or best for the parent's boss? Attachment theory would suggest that self-soothing is learned directly from the primary care-giver(usually mom) not figured out left alone crying in a crib. Also, there is primary research in animals showing that feelings of abandonment produce brain activity very similar to pain, and ignoring pain sensitizes, not soothes. This would suggest that an infant would become sensitive to abandonment (think borderline personality disorder) even though they might stop crying due to the futility of getting help learning to self-soothe. The book is not closed on this question and the Temple article which claims to report "facts" is irresponsible do make that claim. For now, I trust the 'mother-knows-best' method. For millions of years our ancestors have successfully relied on the mother's sense of the situation. My only caution is that in our modern world we may be putting many more other responsibilities on the mom, like having to get a good night's sleep so she can get to work on time.
H. Thomson January 27, 2013 at 01:42 PM
Jim- What utter nonsense! Abandonment issues, borderline personality disorders? Seriously? Spoken like someone with absolutely no practical experience dealing with babies (at least not effectively!). Your summation that women do this to get to work on time is offensive and insulting. Nothing like trying to guilt women (or men , by the way). Mothers and fathers DO know best, which hopefully means they don't listen to the likes of you. Step out of the stone age and join the rest of us in the 21st century.
janine January 27, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Oh My! There is nothing WRONG with Going To Your Baby when your baby cries. They are only that small for a short short time. These little little people need to learn that they can trust that mom will be THERE for them...TRUST is essential.....Schedules are good..so is reading and playing with your bbaies all for brain development. I have three children ages 21, 15 and 4.none of them have had to cry it out scream it out.They are all adjusted people whom know that mom will always be there for them.
Hannah Jackson January 27, 2013 at 02:18 PM
I'm a mother of 2 (one who is currently not sleeping through the night) and I have to agree with Jim. Most new information suggests that the CIO method is not at all good for babies. They all eventually learn to self sooth, nor by being abandoned or left to figure it out, but by being soothed. They imitate at this age and just because they stop crying because they know no one is coming doesn't mean they're effectively self soothing. I respect every parents right to do what they feel is best or what they need to do to survive, but I wholeheartedly disagree that CIO is what's best for the child.
Jim Frank January 27, 2013 at 03:36 PM
to H. Thomson, thanks for illustrating over-sensitivity to what was clearly not meant to be an insult. This is exactly what might be expected of someone who was ignored as an infant, that is if 21st century research on attachment theory is correct in refuting 20th century behavioral ideas like those espoused by Watson and Skinner. I stand by my thought that this is not a done deal, and that any article that claims to have found 'facts' is bogus. I refer you to Dr Weinruab's article in which she clearly states that more research needs to be done. http://www.temple.edu/psychology/weinraub/documents/2011-1-Infant_Sleep_awakenings_fro_m6_to_36_months_of_age.pdf
Jane Gage January 27, 2013 at 04:16 PM
Babies in Romanian orphanages are the ultimate self soothers because they get food thrown at them twice a day, and look how good they turn out.
PhillyDoc January 27, 2013 at 07:06 PM
The "abandonment" research that you're referring to with animals involves removing rat pups from the mother for weeks/months. This is drastically different from not responding to a cry at night (particularly when one is warm and caring toward their child during the day). There is no research to date (and yes, as with any important topic more research is needed) indicating that letting the child cry at night produces adjustment problems, with one recent study finding no relation between letting the child cry and problems later in life. As noted by a reader below, there are moderators to whether a parent should consider the crying-out approach (e.g., perhaps not under 6 months of age; also, if a parent knows they may end up picking the child up after 15 minutes of crying, then the child may learn that they just need to cry longer or louder, likely increasing future crying at night). Also, having worked with many parents of toddlers who wake multiple times a night (and are intermittently reinforced by their parents' attempts to sooth them in the middle of the night), there is a potential downside of not asssiting a child with developing good night-time routines during infancy. When done consistently, children often learn to return to sleep on their own upon waking at night within a week or two. I do agree with Jim that one should not minimize the importance of a good night's sleep - it does allow parents to be at their best for their children during the day.
K in Philly January 27, 2013 at 10:07 PM
There's a great book called "Bringing up Bebe" talking about French parenting - including the idea if a ten minute pause before responding to a cry because the baby may go back to sleep or just be wiggling ...
H. Thomson January 27, 2013 at 11:50 PM
Earnest, Well put. It is indeed a learning process and most parents learn the difference between crying and genuine distress pretty quickly. I would never suggest letting any child "scream it out" but there is no harm in letting 6 month and older babies calm themselves when the are fussing. They almost always settle down on their own relatively quickly. To suggest this brief period of self-soothing constitutes "abandonment" is just ridiculous and irresponsible. To my way of thinking (and my children's pediatricians) it's just smart parenting.
Josh January 28, 2013 at 12:36 AM
Having a two year old ourselves we decided against CIO method. That said, knowing your baby is the key. If it is a true cry for help most parents instinctually differentiate from a cry for 3am playtime. We also respect decisions of others, honestly anyone preaching here is an ass.
Sharon January 28, 2013 at 01:43 AM
I was never able to hear my baby crying without responding. My instincts took over and there was never a question about what I should do.
Bob Byrne (Editor) January 28, 2013 at 04:31 AM
Clearly there are (at least) two distinctive schools of thought on this subject. I have three children. Letting them cry it out worked great with two of them. They were sleeping through the night by 8-9 weeks. Not so much with the (second) other who took several weeks longer. You try, you adjust. You learn quickly which cries are "crying it out" and which are more serious. Now there are video monitors to make it easier to tell which is which. 12 years later all three are well adjusted and healthy.
Frank January 28, 2013 at 11:44 AM
Bob Hit it right on the nose Our twelve year old girl we let cry . I had to go outside because I jut wanted to pick her up. It lasted about 5-10 minutes. After a Week it lasted 1 minute . Although The 5-10 minutes felt like an hour . Our two younger boys, my wife has to sleep in the same room with them - They are 6 and 4 1/2 . The 4 1/2 sleep quick. The 6 year old, Could take h 1 Hr. now we're paying the price for not letting them cry themselves to sleep EVERY Child is so different. NO CORRECT ANSWER!!
marion1 January 28, 2013 at 03:50 PM
Agree with Bob and Frank. Every child is different- agree that under 6 months you really need to go to them, we gently rubbed her back for small whimpers to help her settle and fall asleep in her crib...after 6 months, they need to learn how to get back to sleep on their own. Agree that you learn different cries pretty quickly. Too much fussing over every whimper can lead to "let's play" at 3 a.m. Or in our case, i made the mistake of giving our daughter baby cereal at 3 a.m. thinking she was hungry....during the introduce new foods stage....all that did was set her internal clock for 3 a.m. breakfast! Babies learn FAST!
Josh January 29, 2013 at 05:09 PM
It's amazing how so many agree on the few general approaches in our demographic/area. Any ideas on stopping obsession with characters like batman or Shrek? We take away dvd, turn off tv as much as possible, try to keep exposure minimal from the start, but he just doesn't stop screaming for it. A lot is because at school other kids have cartoon lunch boxes and bags and there seems to be no way to provide a consistent message when they are exposed to what you are trying to control??
Jane January 29, 2013 at 05:33 PM
Like some others have said, it seems to me that just like different people have different characteristics - ways they respond to hunger, extrovert versus introvert, verbal versus reading learner - that babies have them too. I think the best thing a parent can do is read different ideas, think critically about them, and try them out in parenting in a compassionate and alert manner to see what works best with their child. Don't pick a box to put the child in, find a box that fits the shape of the child. (Uhm, should probably clarify that's a metaphor!)
Jane February 11, 2013 at 02:17 AM
Carrie is exactly the kind of Mom I hope never to be!

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